Sunspots …

I woke up today, got out of bed, donned my running gear and went for a run.  I used to do this a lot when I was a kid, but these days it seems harder. There were a hundred excuses this morning, like every morning, as to why I shouldn’t run today, but I ignored them all.

I felt stiff and my back was sore – two of the aforementioned excuses now screaming ‘I told you so!’ as I struggled to find a rhythm – but I ran anyway. It was dark, cold and extremely muddy – November in Britain – but a mile in, around 7.15am, as I turned right to run up ‘the gallops’, the sun broke over the eastern horizon and in an instant washed away the greyness, bathing everything in a weak, but beautiful, sun streaked light. The sunrise changed everything, my mood lifted, the birds sang in appreciation and the world just felt like a much better place.

I now know why I ran today, it was precisely for that moment which I tried to capture on my phone. The image above is unfiltered and unprepped, a phone ‘photosnap’, nothing more. I’m sure a decent photographer could do much more with this image, but I love it just as it is.  I don’t understand why I seem to have 5 sunspots underneath my sun, but I like it.

My running is far from perfect, as is my photography, but both felt just perfectly imperfect today.

 

Why Ed Sheeran is dead to me …

As a kid I quickly became fascinated by music. It was initially pop songs from the charts – The Rubettes, Slade, Abba – and then as a teenager my tastes morphed more into the ‘Rock’ genre – Rainbow, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rush. I guess you could say I was a rocker, as were most of my mates. We conformed.

But then, in my late teens, I started to discover music for myself, my music, largely uninfluenced by my peers. I remember hearing U2 on late night radio around 1980 and being blown away by what I heard. It was way before the War album, even pre-October, perhaps just after Boy had been released, and the track I heard was ‘I will Follow’.

That moment changed me. The music was like nothing I had heard before; it was loud, energetic and rebellious, with lyrics to match, lyrics that seemed to have been written just for me.

And for a short period of time, between 1980-1982, U2 became my band. Of course they went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world and my particular hero, Bono, became the biggest dickhead in the world. I no longer buy U2 albums (nor listen much to what Bono has to say), but I still listen to those older songs because they’re in my DNA, an integral part of who I was.

When my mum and dad dropped me off in my student digs in Forest Road, Colchester in September 1983, I knew no-one. I was shitting myself, but under my arm I had two pieces of vinyl – U2 Boy and U2 October – and that made me pretty much invincible. As a northern lad trying to make it down south, I was that ‘Stranger in a Strangeland’ that Bono sang about … “Stranger, stranger in a strangeland, you looked at me like I was the one who should run”.

There are countless other examples of songs and albums that did for me in the same way. I used U2 as an example but I could have also talked longingly about experiences formed around Julian Cope, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin or Oasis songs.

As I grew and developed, my music came with, it became part of me, part of my fabric.  It wasn’t a cloak I wore on occasions, it was part of who I was, always, like DNA. I am who I am because I listened to ‘An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart’ on repeat throughout the night for several weeks in the winter of ’83. The way I reacted to that experience formed the person I became – it influenced my moods, my character, how I interacted with others.

‘I will Follow’ isn’t a great song in its abstract form. It’s not particularly clever, nor is it even very original. It’s just another 3 1/2 minute guitar song like all the others, but to me it’s the song+memories+emotions. And that’s why I can never recommend that song to anyone else, because it’s not just the song I experience when I hear it, it’s the whole package, and that’s not what’s on offer.

The blissfulness we all experience through music is much more than just the song we hear, it’s an evocation of an entire chapter of our lives, and therefore by extension it’s as unique as is our own fingerprint.

The almost 40 year old ‘An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart’ still stops me in my tracks even now. It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry, particularly the transition from An Cat Dubh to Into the Heart – I can’t put it into words how I feel at 1min 40s into Into The Heart when Bono cries those melancholy words Into the heart, into the heart of a child, I can go back, I can stay a while‘ whilst The Edge’s guitar gently weeps over the top, before swirling round the back and straight through the middle of those aching lyrics mourning the loss of childhood (my God, just typing that makes me weepy).

It’s special to me because I remember the very real fear I had of leaving home for the first time. I remember being genuinely scared of being alone, of having to grow up, not having the faintest clue what my future would look like. That song evokes that time, but if I play it to anyone else it’s just a song that draws a rather awkward, blank stare. I’m trying to share a 3-dimensional experience through 2-dimensional soundwaves.

And for similar reasons, it’s also utter folly to try to like other people’s music. Ed Sheeran is popular in these modern times and I’ve tried ever so hard to like him so I can stay in the game, stay relevant, but I think he’s just a bit shit. I find his music soulless and banal, sorry Ed, it’s not personal.

The truth is, Ed writes for a different audience, for people that are still growing, still forming themselves. He writes for students being dropped off by their parents in September 2019, not 1983, students who are also shit scared of what the future holds, students who are carrying (albeit in digital form) Ed Sheeran songs to comfort them to sleep in the wee small hours.

And so modern day kids will grow up loving Ed or Jay Z in pretty much the same way as I loved U2 and Julian Cope, and that’s OK, it’s not a competition and there should be no league table. We shouldn’t try and sell our music to others because it’s not the music that’s on offer, it’s something much greater, something less tangible, something non-transferable.

Shakespeare said ‘Let music be the food of love’, but I say let musical-experiences be the food of the soul. Your soul. Music is an object, but music plus memory becomes a lifetime and the two should never be conflated.

No one song beats any other song. ‘My’ music wasn’t the best, but it was, and still is, ‘mine’. My music became part of my stories and my stories became my life. In the same way, their music will always be theirs and your music will always be yours.

So sing your Ed Sheeran song, sing it for you and rejoice, but for the love of God turn that dreary racket down, I can’t hear myself think.

Long lost summer …

It’s nearing the end of the summer, always a time of reflection and of change. The holiday to Spain is very fresh in the memory – that heat, those breathtaking views, cathedrals and palaces, the food. And of course there’s the friendships, camarderie, shared laughs, the holiday jokes. And last but not least, Graeme the Swan(n).

But summer wasn’t just about the Spanish holiday, it was also about those long summer days at home – about opening all the doors and windows, about barbecues and village fetes. It was also about long, hot runs through the countryside, about cooling showers, about cricket, not football. About sleeping on top of the duvet, not underneath it.

It was also about perspectives, a time to reflect on what has been and what is still to be. And new perspectives make for new promises. Changes aren’t just the preserve of the new year, they’re for the beach too, a time we naturally carve out space to rethink our priorities, to readjust, to recalibrate.

And, soon enough we are back at work. It’s always an odd feeling to put on your work gear after weeks of wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The socks feel weird, the trousers feel a little tighter, but at least you have a healthy tan, for now.

Logging on to work for the first time is a challenge – forgotten passwords, long lines of unread emails demanding your attention and messy problems that you blithely brushed under the carpet back in July are still there waiting, still unresolved.

And in that pointless meeting on your first day back, your mind wanders, you open your wallet and find a receipt from the coffee shop in Andalucia and you’re fleetingly back in Spain, which suddenly feels a very long time ago indeed.

Pennies from Hell

I was outraged to read today that the UK Treasury has decided to retain 1p and 2p coins so that people “have a choice“. Have a choice of what exactly? The only choice consumers face is which medication they take to fight the bacterial disease they will inevitably contract from touching the wretched things.

1p and 2p coins are the bane of my life and have been for many years. They spread like fungus through a damp house, found in between sofa cushions, inside that rubber collar in washing machines and at the bottom of kitchen drawers, especially the knick-knack drawer (you know the one).

They’re filthy things too, ladened with germs after festering in dark, dank places for years after being handled and mauled by hygienically challenged consumers up and down the land.

And the most ridiculous thing of all is that you can’t actually use them for their sole intended purpose – to buy things. Nobody in their right mind would carry a handful of 1p and 2p coins because it’s so utterly impractical. This isn’t a matter of choice.

Furthermore, you only ever bring the damn things home and never take them out again purely because they’re so inanely impractical. Name one person over the age of three who carries coins? Nothing costs less than 99p anyway these days and nobody, absolutely nobody, not even 3 year olds, carries 99 x 1p coins with them to anywhere except the penny arcade in 1979.

But if you scrap them everything will cost more! Do me a favour. If I buy something using cash for 99p today, I inevitably hand over a £1 coin and receive a 1p coin back. That 1p coin, due to its inherent uselessness, will end up down the back of my sofa or the bottom of my knick-knack drawer within a week. That said item still cost me £1 but I now also have a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection picked up from the filthy 1p coin!

Simply scrap the damn things, round everything up to £1 and shops can then donate 1% to charity at the end of each week, with the donation costs more than outweighed by simplified cash handling and less staff sickness from fewer contracted bacterial infections.

And on a most serious note, let’s not forget the incredible waste of copper and zinc at a time when the planet is being raped, pillaged and plundered of all its natural resources. We have a life threatening ecological crisis on our hands and our Treasury decides it’s a good idea to continue producing 1p and 2p coins for many more years so that people ‘have a choice’.

Absolutely bloody ridiculous. I’m fuming.

1p and 2p coins are the bane of my life and have been for many years. They spread like fungus through the house, found in between sofa cushions, inside that rubber collar in washing machines, inside trouser pockets and at the bottom of kitchen drawers, especially the knick-knack drawer (you know the one).

They’re filthy things too, ladened with germs after festering in dark, dank places for years, after being handled and mauled by hygienically challenged consumers up and down the land.

And the most ridiculous thing of all is that you can’t actually use them for their sole intended purpose – to buy things. Nobody in their right mind would carry a handful of 1p and 2p coins because it’s so utterly impractical. This isn’t a matter of choice.

Furthermore, you only ever bring the damn things home and never take them out again purely because they’re so inanely impractical. Name one person over the age of three who carries coins? Nothing costs less than 99p anyway these days and nobody, absolutely nobody, not even 3 year olds, carries 99 x 1p coins with them.

But if you scrap them everything will cost more! Do me a favour. If I buy something using cash for 99p today, I inevitably hand over a £1 coin and receive a 1p coin back. That 1p coin, due to its inherent uselessness, will end up down the back of my sofa or the bottom of my knick-knack drawer within a week. That said item still cost me £1 but I now also have a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection picked up from the filthy 1p coin!

Simply scrap the damn things, round everything up to £1 and shops can then donate 1% to charity at the end of each week, with the donation costs more than outweighed by simplified cash handling and less staff sickness from fewer contracted bacterial infections.

And on a most serious note, let’s not forget the incredible waste of copper and zinc at a time when the planet is being raped, pillaged and plundered of all its natural resources. We have a life threatening ecological crisis on our hands and our Treasury decides it’s a good idea to continue producing 1p and 2p coins for many more years so that people ‘have a choice’.

Absolutely bloody ridiculous and I’m bloody fuming.

Total recall …

I don’t know how it all began. I’ve been told where it happened, and I can easily work out when, through a simple, cursory glance at my passport. But I remember none of it.

My earliest recollection is of me as a five year old, being lifted into my Uncle’s fire engine, sitting in the world’s biggest seat and grabbing the world’s largest, roundest steering wheel. I remember I was unable to see out of the windscreen and I remember wearing an oversized helmet (yellow). I also remember being lifted down. It all felt very special.

And that’s it, my first memory. What happened in those intervening five years between being born and being in the fire engine remain a complete mystery to me. I wonder if every one of those days are still logged and filed away somewhere in my brain? Am I just struggling to retrieve them, or have the actual memories themselves been lost or overwritten? Is it an access and retrieval issue, or a storage/capacity one?

And my second memory? I couldn’t tell you. I remember playing out a lot, I remember special occasions, I remember holidays, I remember mandarin oranges and carnation creme, I remember my schoolmates, I remember hot summers and snowy winters, but I can’t piece these together into any kind of coherent narrative.

And I’m not sure if that’s good or bad? To have perfect recall would be quite handy, but it also feels like hard work. It would be quite intensive too I’m sure, having some huge rolodex your brain has to rifle* through every time you want to recall something.

Imagine arguments:

“You said you didn’t like cheese?”
“I never did”
<rifles through my Rolodex memory to Saturday 14th May 1973, Philip Harrison’s party>
“Yes you did, at Philip Harrison’s party in 1973, Philip’s mum placed a cheese and onion cocktail stick on your plate and you screamed”

Hmmm, it could be quite annoying too, especially if you’re the only one. You’d probably have a nickname like ‘Rolodex Man’. And I imagine friends would get well annoyed. You’d win virtually every argument, but at what cost? Almost certainly at the cost of all friendships.

Admittedly it would be nice to remember nice things with more clarity – that family holiday to the south of France in 1972, I’d love to be able to sit back and rifle* through those pages, yeah that would be lovely. Although I wouldn’t want to recall that time I soiled myself at infant school. The fact I remember soiling myself is alarming enough without torturing myself with the detail. I can only imagine I must have been quite anxious at the time.

So yeah, no, yeah – recalling that ‘spin the bottle’ game at Susan’s party when I was 14, maybe, being sick on my shoes after downing a bottle of Pomagne in Majorca when I was 17 – probably best forgotten.

I do quite like the imperfections of memory. I quite like how a memory may pop up seemingly from nowhere, prompted perhaps by a song on the radio, or the memories evoked by the smell of freshly cut grass, or the aroma of cooking.

Meeting up with old friends and remembering days gone by together – that’s a lovely memory in itself isn’t it? That certainly feels much nicer than rifling* through a Rolodex.

Nah, total recall is not for me, I say let’s leave that to AI Robots.

Pub quizzes would be ace though …

* Rifle or Riffle?

100 not out … a journey into sobriety

I’ve been a moderate-to-heavy drinker for almost 40 years. Like most kids around my way, I started to explore drinking around the age of 15/16, but didn’t really turn pro until I was 18.

I’ve never been able to say I’m an expert at anything, I’ve always felt like a ‘jack of all trades’, except when it came to drinking. In fact if drinking had been an olympic sport in the early-80s I would have been a shoe-in for the GB team, just ask anyone at my university, especially my lecturers.

It’s not surprising therefore that I messed up at university, and that really should have been a warning sign. When I moved south for my first job, carrying my shoddy, just-scraped-through-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth degree with me, my northernness (the chip on my shoulder, my funny accent) it only served to compound my insecurities, but that was OK as I was good at drinking and I could always fall back on that. And so I did.

I could always hold my beer. I’ve never been a classic drunk, and I would never be ‘outdrunk’ by anyone. I had (and still have) this uncanny knack of knowing precisely how many drinks everyone else had had, and no matter how large the group or how busy the pub, I would be keeping an eye, not letting anyone move ahead of me in the ‘drinks consumed’ column. I was always the last man standing.

But I was always (to borrow a term from those alcoholics over there) ‘high functioning’. I was reliable and would always turn up for work, I never got into trouble with the law, never got into fights, never had blackouts. I was a good drinker and I was defined somewhat by my drinking.

I recently found an old pocket diary of mine from 1987, I was 22, and even back then I used to record Alcohol Free Days by marking the corner of the page with the abbreviation ‘AFD’. It’s interesting to note that I was obviously concerned about my drinking, even way back then, whilst still very young. For the record I recorded just 36 AFDs in the whole 12 months of 1987 and I think that was pretty much the norm.

As I grew older I continued to drink steadily, but with marriage and children came other responsibilities and that helped me to rein in my drinking although I continued to have a rather odd relationship with alcohol. I continued to track AFDs and still had concerns about my intake.

What normal person tracks AFDs over 40 years? What normal person lays awake worrying about how much they drink? Who schedules AFDs into their calendar? Who tracks units consumed and plots graphs over time? How many of us wake up with their first thought being whether or not this would be an AFD?

In short, alcohol was making me sad. I wasn’t depressed and certainly not suicidal, I just felt gloomy and I wanted to find out why. On New Years Eve 2018 I felt tired, I was overweight, I had indigestion, I was sleeping badly, eating badly and I was irritable. And so I stopped.

January felt quite easy, this was a new challenge and I was motivated. I’d done Dry January before, twice in fact, but in both cases, once February came around, I relapsed back into my old ways very quickly, like slipping into an old pair of jeans – drinking became very familiar again, like meeting an old friend.

This time I completed January with few problems. I hadn’t lost any weight, in fact I had gained a little as I think I was eating more to replace the void of alcohol on my evening agenda. My sleep wasn’t much different either, but I did feel mentally better – more alert and less anxious – and so I decided I would continue into February.

Initially, February was difficult. All the Dry January people and accompanying chatter had fallen away. Life returned to normal for normal people – Christmas was forgotten, everyone was back to work and sobriety in February felt quite a struggle. In mid-February however, I realised that for the first time in 40 years, I had managed to go more than 40 days without alcohol. Pathetic in absolute terms, but an achievement in relative terms and this spurred me on to complete my second month. 

During February I noticed my sleep started to improve. I would still wake during the night, but the intervening periods of sleep were deeper and I woke feeling more refreshed. I also felt a lot ‘happier’ – my mood had lifted, my positivity increased and I just felt somehow better equipped to handle life.

March arrived and I felt my habit start to loosen. There’s a lot of evidence suggesting it takes around 66 days to break entrenched habits, and it was around this time that I stopped craving a drink at 6pm and stopped checking off progress on my calendar.

And so here I am, I made it through March and into April. Today is day 100, I am 100 AFDs not out, just like Geoffrey Boycott (I don’t think Geoffrey was a heavy drinker by the way, I just made an awkward segway from booze to cricket for the sake of a lazy ‘100 not out’ analogy). And just like Geoffrey (here I go again), my innings wasn’t always pretty, I was nudging and nurdling singles mainly (taking it day by day) and I got there eventually.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing, I still miss a drink occasionally, and every now then I seem to miss it an awful lot. The feeling comes upon me unexpectedly and in that instant I feel fleetingly sad – a realisation that I can’t just join in with normal people and raise a glass of champagne or down a couple with the lads. But the feeling goes as quickly as it comes and these feelings do get further apart. But these feelings are preventing me from saying I will never drink again. I’m not a born again soberista, I’m not a convert, I’m just a heavy drinker taking a break and trying to break a habit.

And at this point I can almost hear the screams of you normal people wondering why I don’t just moderate! Like a normal person!! Well, I’ve tried moderating many times and it has never worked, for me it has always been a sure fire, slippery slope back to my normal levels of heavy drinking.

But worst of all for me is the mental chatter. The incessant commentary in my head brought about through trying to moderate:
‘just have one drink … don’t have a second … oh no you’ve had a second drink and now you’ve ruined it’
‘today was going to be alcohol free but now I have that dinner party’
‘I feel fed up, perhaps one drink is OK, and maybe a second is OK too? I promise to be good for the rest of the week’
‘Oh God, I overdid it, now I must be alcohol free for the rest of the month’


Ugh … by far the best thing about being alcohol free for me has been the loss of the internal, infernal, incessant monologue going round and round in my head. I have so much free time now to think about other things, better things, bigger things. I have so much more time on my hands and I’m more mentally and physically capable of doing more things with that time too.

To summarise, the best things for me have been:

  1. Sleep – wow, way better. I undoubtedly sleep more deeply, and if I do wake during the night, I fall back to sleep more easily. I’ve lessened that infernal, internal chatter. Best of all I wake in the morning feeling ready instead of feeling half beaten.
  2. Mental health – I’m just so better equipped to deal with the shit life throws my way. With booze it’s easy to hide – to put those problems on hold for a while, but of course that’s all you ever do, put them on hold. The problems are still always there until you deal with them.
  3. Weight – I’ve lost about 6kg, so around a stone. I’ve saved over 40,000 calories through not drinking.
  4. Fitness – no hangovers means better and more regular running, further improved by the weight loss and better sleep.
  5. Diet – way less junk food, less cravings for sugar, more stable portion control, more mindfulness around what I eat and when I eat.

So what now? I honestly have no idea. I’m not a born again teetotaller and I will never preach to others to do the same. Most of you don’t need preaching to, because most of you have a perfectly healthy relationship with alcohol. Our house continues to be full of booze, same as it always was, and guests will always be welcomed with a drink whenever they visit. My wife drinks, my kids drink and my friends drink and that’s absolutely fine with me. For this to work it can’t affect others and that’s my water mark.

This has become an important personal journey for me and I’ve probably opened up here more than I initially planned, but I think I’m OK with that. To quote Gloria Gaynor, I am what I am. Alcohol removed the sharp edges from my life – it might have dulled the pain but it also dampened down the highs. Alcohol isn’t fun for me currently, and until I feel like it is, I’m going to carry on with my sobriety.

Perhaps one day I will drink again, moderately, yes, moderately, without any associated mental baggage and with no risk of sliding back into my old ways. Maybe one day, choosing to have a drink will be like choosing what clothes to wear – a decision I can make in an instant, based purely on instinct instead of flawed logic, an inconsequential decision that I don’t ever need to over-analyse or think about again.

I’m not quite there yet, but I am getting there and I hope that doesn’t come between us. After all I have a shitload of wine under the stairs that won’t drink itself.

Geoff Boycott of England celebrates on the balcony with a glass of champagne which links nicely to Andy’s analogy, see? He’s just completed his 100th Test Match Century on the first day of the 4th Test Match between England and Australia at Headingley in Leeds, 11th August 1977. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

A concept piece in separating the self …

In truth, there’s only ever us, and then there’s life outside of us.

There’s me – my painful knee, my anxiety, my fear of spiders, my dreams, my guilt, my aspirations – and then there’s life out there – the dripping tap, the thunderstorm, Brexit, a spider under the sofa, a garden full of leaves.

These are two very distinct things. I am me, and those things over there are just, well, those things over there.

I control me – I determine my emotional state, my level of well-being, my industriousness, my laziness – and all that is within my control, but I don’t control all the things happening out there – the rain, the wars, the politics, the insects, the plumbing.

And yet, whilst I don’t control any of ‘that’, only ‘this’, I seem to be often held hostage by ‘that’.

Let me give an example …

I see a spider, I feel frightened. Before seeing the spider I might have been quite content with life, but the moment the spider does an 8-legged trot out from beneath the sofa into my line of vision, I become a pissing, gibbering wreck.

Yet I am still me, still the exact same person I was pre-spider – same body, same genes, same blood, same brain, same thought processes.

So what happened? I am now frightened and scared, whereas before I was happy, before that damned spider appeared. Except the spider didn’t appear, the spider was always there, it’s just that I couldn’t see it. What really happened was the spider had a thought, made a decision to walk left, out from beneath the sofa. Had it chosen to stay put, or turn right, I would have remained happy.

Think about that, a neuron fired randomly in a spider’s brain and it spoiled my day. Go figure.

I spill my tea, I cross the road and a car beeps its horn, it’s raining out, the news on the radio is all bad … and yet, in none of these cases could I have affected the outcome. Other people will always piss me off, whatever I do, rain will always fall when it’s ready, earthquakes will always happen, Brexit is Brexit.

Far better surely to live a life where a spider neuron firing doesn’t make or break your day? Far better to live a life where one feels good or bad because of ones own actions?

If, on my way to work, I call in on my elderly neighbour to check if they’re OK and perhaps make them a cup of tea, then surely I deserve to feel good, because there is a genuine cause and a genuine effect, instigated by me.

And more broadly speaking, through such actions can society not be incrementally improved? Whereas when the spider turns left, well, society doesn’t change one iota …

Nor does society change when the lorry driver angrily waves the wanker sign at me as I cross the road and I do the dickhead sign back. What happens is two people become angry, two people’s health suffers and that part of the world becomes a little bleaker, a little angrier.

Let the spider turn left, let the lorry driver wave his chubby, fat, porky, gammon fingers a certain way, let the rain fall. Throughout I can still be me, only ever me, exactly me, before and after.

I think happiness needs to be earned, dictated by the ‘self’, not commandeered by others (such as a spider). Happiness shouldn’t come from pride, but from action – by making a brew for the elderly lady next door, mending that fence, writing that poem, unblocking that drain. These actions make society better and are in turn worthy of happiness.

In a similar vein, nor should we be defined by our jobs or careers. We weren’t born as Accountants, Shopkeepers or Teachers, we became them. But we didn’t change into them, we didn’t switch from being a human being to suddenly being an angry lorry driver – the two things co-exist.  And whilst one is permanent, the other is only ever temporary.

I happen to be a Yorkshireman and I work in Sales. I will always be a Yorkshireman, but I won’t always be working in Sales. At least I fucking hope not.

Our occupations are simply cloaks we wear, uniforms if you like, but the mistake many of us make is that we rarely take them off. Many of us might have been working for so long that we feel like we’ve become someone else, like we’ve shed our original skin and grafted a new one, that of an Accountant, for example.

Think how we often greet strangers:

Them: “Hi, what do you do?”
Me: “Hi, I’m an Accountant”

Time to stop, perhaps. Time for a different tack …

Them: “Hi, what do you do?”

Me: “Hi, I do life”

Them: “Oh. You’re weird, a bit of a dickhead in fact.”

Me: “Look! A spider!”

Hmm, perhaps this ‘concept’ piece needs more work …

Autumn Equinox

This is how I understand it.

Today is the autumn equinox. The sun hits the earth side on, pole to pole, and so rose exactly due east this morning and will set exactly due west tonight.

Day and night are equal, for today only, and after today, for us in the northern hemisphere, night outlives day and shall do so for the next six months.

The world we live in.

Monkey say, monkey do (parallel universes) …

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I find myself all alone, all on my own, by myself, and I get excited by the seemingly endless possibilities of what I can do to fill the glorious void of time and space stretched out before me. Not just content to fill that time and space, but to better myself, to correct past mistakes, to make personal advances – to learn, to grow spiritually, physically and mentally.

Imagine the scene – I wake up one morning, no one is due home until tomorrow. I have no work, it’s a Sunday, say. A just-me Sunday, 24hrs to myself, to do what I want, and my head is spinning and overflowing with thoughts and ideas:

{screen shimmer to a parallel universe where my chimp imagination lives}

I rise early and visit a local market, I’m on my bike, I wave to the postman and stop briefly to chat to a neighbour. At the organic market I buy some fresh, local produce before enjoying a coffee with an old friend I haven’t seen in ages. Before leaving we make a date to catch-up properly over a beer. As I cycle home I plan the meal I’m going to cook for evening supper.

After I’ve unpacked I decide to go for a run – a long, uninterrupted run across the rolling hills within easy distance of my house. I return 72 minutes later (great time), exhausted but fulfilled. I take a long, lazy shower that refreshes. Shortly after I find myself sitting by the french window, mug of green tea in hand, reading my complex, dark and challenging novel, music is playing softly in the background, I think it’s Rachmaninov.

After finishing the novel, wow, I write a short review online. I then call my mum, we chat, we reminisce, we laugh. I do some laundry before I start prepping my evening meal whilst listening to a play on the radio. It’s hilarious, but, being partly educational too, I also learn a lot about the first world war, for it was a historical play. Smart. I catch sight of myself in the reflection from the window and I’m wearing a checked shirt, sporting round glasses with a rogueish haircut. I look ripped.

My meal is ready, I pour myself a solitary glass of wine. I feel relaxed, muscles nicely tired from exercise. I recall the conversation I had at the market with my friend and I smile, ruefully. One glass of wine is enough, so I clear away and once the kitchen is spotless, I sit at an antique desk and write a letter to another dear friend, for I have many. I seal the letter and place it by the door – I’ll post that first thing tomorrow, I tell myself.

I’m tired, I make myself a chamomile tea and repair to my bed where I read a little but soon fall asleep for eight peaceful, slumbering hours. I dream I’m on a European historical and gastronomic touring holiday with many of my close friends, we are having a blast.

{Screen shimmer}

We are back in the room where the real chimp me lives.

I wake with a jolt. I’m absolutely shattered, I slept like shit again. I reach for my phone, I read Twitter for an hour, feel very angry at the world so switch to Facebook. After a few minutes I feel angry at my friends too, so I switch to Instagram. That feels better, nice pictures, though some are a tad boring. I really should get up. I go for a pee but get back into bed, picking up my phone again. I play Candy Crush – level 1470 is a total, complete and utter bastard of a level, as though invented by the devil himself, to be played for eternity in Candy Crush Hell by Candy Crush Sinners. I run out of lives and feel very, very angry with all employees at King, makers and developers of Candy Crush. I check my friends’ Candy Crush progress – bastards, every one of them, they MUST be paying, they MUST be buying levels. What snakes.

Two hours have passed, it’s now mid morning, I really should get up and do something with my day otherwise I’ll feel like shit, so I get up and shower. That’s better, well done me, and so as a treat I check Candy Crush, I have earned back two lives, yay! But I fail to beat level 1470 again … twice. I head to the kitchen for breakfast in a rotten mood.

I should have oats and berries but I’m starving. I spot the leftover takeaway curry in the fridge and smile, moments later I’m tucking into microwave-warmed chicken dhansak, bombay aloo, rice and leftover naan. My plate overfloweth. I leave nothing. I’m feeling really tired now, so I switch on the TV and watch a recorded Match Of The Day that sees me through to lunch. At least I’m clearing space on the TV’s hard drive, I tell myself.

I should go for a run but feel too tired, my belly swollen with curry. There’s a knock on the door, so I hide out of view. I try to read but I’m not in the mood for that either, so I search out a new boxset on Netflix.  It’s shit, so I reach for my smartphone and check social media, burning through the rest of the afternoon as my internal levels of anger and resentment rise like sap within me. The phone rings, I can’t bring myself to answer it, I’m not feeling very sociable.

I suddenly feel inexplicably sad and unfulfilled, but as it starts to get dark I decide it’s OK to have a drink and I start feeling better, so I open a bottle of red wine which makes me peckish. I look in the fridge, nothing, just an empty space where the leftover curry once lived. But then I remember the pizza in the freezer and I’m sorted.  The wine complements the pizza so much that I open a second bottle. The extra large deep dish with cheesy crusts is challenging, but with extra wine for lubrication I manage to complete the circle of dough just as I finish the second bottle of wine. Synchronicity.

I’m wide awake now. It’s soon midnight (how time flies), and a great time to post on social media, I tell myself. I’m feeling very political and tweet ferociously, letting the world (or at least my 172 followers) know exactly how I feel. I’m both political and funny. What a guy, that’ll show my followers and I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick up a few more after that tirade. I lose five followers, five idiot followers, so switch dolefully to Facebook where I post one of my funniest jokes ever which earns two likes – most of my friends must be sleeping.

It’s 2am and I’m peckish again. The 1.5 litres of red wine has left a funny taste in my mouth (was the wine ‘off’, I wonder?), so I open a bag of cheesy quavers (86 calories) and pour myself a generous malt whisky (way better than beer), which feels like a masterstroke. Perhaps I should have been a culinary chef/dietician with my own TV channel? My imagination runs wild.

I wake at 5am, I’m fully clothed, laying on my bed, all the lights are on. I’m impressed how my autopilot self manages to do that, to get me home every time, and think I must be special.

Very special indeed.

monkey

Slave or master?

On average, we spend three hours a day on our smartphones. That’s 21 hours a week, 1,000 hours a year or 60,000 hours over an adult’s (60 year) lifetime. And if my maths is correct, that equates to 6.8 years of constant phone use.

But, realistically, you’d need to sleep, let’s say eight hours a day, leaving just 16hrs a day to look at your phone and do nothing else, in which case that 6.8 years actually stretches over 10 years.

But, realistically, you’d also need to eat, say three meals a day, say 1hr per meal, so just 13 hrs a day means it would take 12.6 years to complete your phone usage quota (PUQ).

But hey, realistically, you need to work, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to afford a damn phone in the first place, so let’s take another 8 hrs a day out, which leaves 5 hrs a day, which will take around 33 years.

But hey, realistically, you have a life too, right? Of sorts. So let’s say 2hrs a day you actually chat to people, shower, shop, DIY, watch TV, do other jobs … which leaves just 3hrs a day … that’s … 60 years.

Oh yeah.

Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain

Being addicted to your smartphone can seriously fcuk with your mental health